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FMEA Corner 
This Month's Theme is How to Manage Conflict in FMEAs
Next month's theme will be using design FMEAs to identify key product characteristics

Every month in FMEA Corner, join Carl Carlson, a noted expert in the field of FMEAs and facilitation, as he addresses a different FMEA theme (based on his book Effective FMEAs) and also answers your questions.

Questions and answers are a great way to learn about FMEAs, for both experienced and less experienced FMEA practitioners. Please feel free to ask any question about any aspect of FMEAs. Send your questions to Carl.Carlson@EffectiveFMEAs.com, and your contact information will be kept anonymous. All questions will be answered, even if they are not featured in the FMEA Corner.

Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress. - Gandhi



con·flict [kən-flikt, noun]
The Oxford English Dictionary defines "conflict" as, "an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests."

What is the value of conflict in an FMEA?

Conflicts are bound to arise from time to time. They can be positive and beneficial. An absence of any expressions of disagreement or conflict may indicate a problem in adequacy or quality of facilitation. Facilitators should not be afraid of conflict, but should learn the value of disagreements and how to manage them. Understanding the difference between healthy debates and dysfunctional arguments is critical to good facilitation.

Should an FMEA facilitator be concerned if there are no conflicting opinions or ideas in an FMEA?

The short answer is "yes." FMEAs bring out the best thinking of the team, and often a team will discover things that individuals have missed. In order to do this, it is usually necessary to bring to the surface differences in opinions and priorities. Lack of expression of differences of opinion can mean that one or more team members are holding back their opinions to avoid conflict.

What are the benefits of conflicting opinions or ideas in an FMEA?

Conflict allows team members to consider different points of view and encourages new thinking. It can raise important questions and lead to breakthroughs in thinking. If managed well, open debate and raising conflicting ideas can lead to better FMEA results.

Unfortunately, some people feel surprised or even threatened when experiencing conflict. Team members can suddenly feel like adversaries, and stir their emotions. Some people react to conflict in unhealthy ways.

The FMEA facilitator should be skilled in managing conflict and encouraging healthy behaviors.

How should conflict be managed in an FMEA?

There are effective and ineffective ways to manage conflict:

FMEA sessions work best when debates are healthy. Healthy debates consist of these elements:

  1. Being open to hearing ideas from other people.
  2. Listening and responding to ideas.
  3. Understanding other persons' points of view.
  4. Staying objective and focusing on the facts.
  5. Using a systematic approach in debating ideas.

Facilitators should use these techniques to encourage healthy debates:

  1. Pointing out differences.
  2. Assertively requiring that participants listen.
  3. Using rules politely.
  4. Focusing on the facts.
  5. Inviting feedback.
  6. Controlling conversation.

Firmly disallowing rude behavior or comments that demean character or personality is essential. If any behavior occurs that is not conducive to healthy discussions, the facilitator must immediately refer the offending person or the entire group to the meeting norms and insist on adherence.

Application in Xfmea

Users sometimes ask if an FMEA should document the alternatives that were considered or debated by the FMEA team before achieving consensus. This can be done, as long as the entries meet company guidelines for good documentation.

Xfmea can easily support adding a user-defined column at any point of an FMEA. Let's say the FMEA team is considering whether or not to change the widget material from steel to aluminum, and the team debates the options. After careful consideration, possibly including a Pugh Analysis (subject of a future FMEA Corner article), the team decides to recommend aluminum. The Recommended Action might say, "Change widget material to aluminum." The team can also choose to enter information about the decision in a "Comments" field associated with the Recommended Actions.

!FMEA Tips

A good facilitator views conflicting opinions as a healthy way to bring out all sides of an issue. It is important for each team member to have a chance to discuss his/her viewpoints on any contentious issues. Here the facilitator uses a combination of skills, such as probing questions, active listening and consensus building.

?Something I’ve always wanted to know about FMEAs
The important thing is not to stop questioning. - Albert Einstein

A HotWire reader submitted the following question to Carl Carlson. To submit your own question about any aspect of FMEA theory or application, e-mail Carl at Carl.Carlson@EffectiveFMEAs.com.

What are the main reasons for not specifying recommended actions for any cause?

Carl: Each company addresses this issue in their own way. When I am working with a company, I discuss the risk associated with the different combinations of severity, occurrence and detection, and sort these by graduated levels of risk. If you are using Xfmea, the different combinations of severity, occurrence and detection are reflected in the "Risk Ranking Logic" section of project properties. Obviously, high severity takes precedence, even when occurrence and detection are low. (I address this in chapter 7 of my book.) Once the company has reviewed the levels of risk associated with different combinations of severity, occurrence and detection, the FMEA team has guidance on when a recommended action is not needed. If the FMEA team determines that no action is needed for a given cause, and the risk of no action is acceptable, the team can either enter "No action needed" in the Recommended Actions column, or leave it blank.

About the Author

Carl S. CarlsonCarl S. Carlson is a consultant and instructor in the areas of FMEA, reliability program planning and other reliability engineering disciplines. He has 35 years of experience in reliability testing, engineering and management positions, and is currently supporting clients from a wide variety of industries, including clients of HBM Prenscia. Previously, he worked at General Motors, most recently senior manager for the Advanced Reliability Group. His responsibilities included FMEAs for North American operations, developing and implementing advanced reliability methods and managing teams of reliability engineers. Previous to General Motors, he worked as a Research and Development Engineer for Litton Systems, Inertial Navigation Division. Mr. Carlson co-chaired the cross-industry team that developed the commercial FMEA standard (SAE J1739, 2002 version), participated in the development of SAE JA 1000/1 Reliability Program Standard Implementation Guide, served for five years as Vice Chair for the SAE's G-11 Reliability Division and was a four-year member of the Reliability and Maintainability Symposium (RAMS) Advisory Board. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan and completed the 2-course Reliability Engineering sequence from the University of Maryland's Masters in Reliability Engineering program. He is a Senior Member of ASQ and a Certified Reliability Engineer.

Effective FMEAsSelected material for FMEA Corner articles is excerpted from the book Effective FMEAs, published by John Wiley & Sons, ©2012. Information about the book Effective FMEAs, along with useful FMEA aids, links and checklists can be found on www.effectivefmeas.com. Carl Carlson can be reached at carl.carlson@effectivefmeas.com.